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Published: Wednesday, 10/19/2011

Prehistoric studio

A discovery in a South African cave is forcing scientists to redefine their understanding of the artistic and conceptual life of early humans.

Two large shells that contained a version of paint, and clusters of tools with residue of ochre deposits, are believed to be the first evidence that humans had artistic intentions 100,000 years ago. The reddish ochre is believed to have been produced and used in what scientists are calling a prehistoric art studio.

The cave doesn't have drawings or paintings on display. Still, the studio is 40,000 years older than the previous record holder.

The paint found on the end of bone spatulas doesn't tell us a lot about what early humans did with it, but it is evidence of their capacity for complex thought, artistic intention, and symbolic action -- that they had thought processes similar to ours.

The artists who toiled in the cave didn't leave behind a studio that Michelangelo or Rembrandt would have envied. But their tools point to a longer history of creativity than we previously imagined.

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